Saturday, 3 July 2010

A Historic Week for Crofters

Four generations ago my mother's side of our family were crofters.

Then, at the end of WW1 not enough men returned to continue caring for the land so crofting families moved to the cities to find employment. Only my grandmother's sister and her husband managed to survive on their small croft in Aberdeenshire where I spent many happy holidays.

Since these days the draw of the cities has continued to influence younger generations and crofts were sold or left unoccupied.

This week the Crofting Reform Bill was passed by the Scottish parliament by 66 votes to zero, with 59 abstentions. Scottish ministers say there are almost 2000 absentee crofters and an unknown number of neglected crofts out of the 18,000 across the Highlands and Islands. Under the Bill's provisions, all crofters, whether owner-occupiers or tenants, will have a duty to occupy and work the land.

It will see enhanced powers for the Crofting Commission, which will take over from the current organisation of the same name, to clamp down on absenteeism and neglect. The creation of a new map-based register of crofts was also approved by MSPs despite opposition efforts to have it struck from the Bill.

There can't be a crofter in the whole of Scotland not pleased the Bill has passed. The average croft (smallholding) is around five hectares these days and the crofter's living is comes from produce and livestock. Absentee crofters can destroy small communities because there is a strong emphasis on collective working, kinship and the preservation of culture and heritage. I can but hope this will see the end of crofts being sold then used as holiday homes - a common occurrence in recent years.


Macheath said...

Good news indeed - as is anything that prevents rural housing being snapped up a inflated prices for the recreation of city-dwellers.

Forgive my ignorance, but is this something that has European backing as an example of national heritage?

JRB said...

I fail to see how this takes the crofters lot one step forward.

Now, unlike all other property owners in Scotland, crofters will have to register their holding twice. Once, as normal property owners, and again with this newly formatted Crofters Commission. Both at the crofters expense; and if they also have to have the croft mapped, that will cost an additional years crofting income.

As for absentee crofters, like your relatives who were forced to move to find employment, are their descendents now to be dragged back kicking and screaming to tend and maintain the croft.

Failing which, if a croft is to be ‘repossessed’, then by whom, the Crofters Commission, the original landowner, the local community, the crofting community?
And at what cost to the public purse?

This new Crofting Reform Bill is nothing more than a bureaucratic nightmare promulgated by a few politicos, with far too heavily tinted rose coloured glasses, based in Auld Reekie.

Crofting is not some romantic idyll, it is back breaking toil, unable to generate sufficient income to support a modern family, it is now slowly becoming an anachronism.

subrosa said...

Macheath, I've no idea if it has European backing. I should think that it may well have though because I should think the government would have gone ahead otherwise.

Then again...

subrosa said...

Didn't crofters have to register with the old Crofters Commission John? I thought they did and that's how it was known how many there were throughout the country.

I doubt anyone will be forced back kicking and screaming. From what I've heard from my small (two) crofting friends they want to stop communities being bought by those who offer the highest price then have no intention of being crofters but use the premises as holiday homes (when private owners).

The small print of the new legislation I don't know, but I understand landowners will be responsible for ensuring new tenants wish the croft for the right purposes. In many cases in the past landlords rented it to the first applicant.

Also I believe the legislation is a result of years of discussion between crofters and politicians. It certainly isn't something which politicians alone dreamt up.

Anonymous said...

With respect, for what I understand to be a well-meaning blog, JRB is much closer to the truth. I say that as a crofter. Crofters currently have to work and occupy their crofts but enforcement is patchy (not crofters fault that).This only introduces additional bureaucracy and charges for a raft of required approvals for normal croft management. It will not impact the issue of holiday homes. The agenda for change comes from the Edinburgh civil service alone - they have long believed that crofting should be consigned to history. Unfortuneately the crofting regime is so complicated that it is understood by very few. Accordingly when change is presented as well meaning, it can in practice be hard to prevent it. Googling the history of the Bill and groups such as the Crofting Rights Emergency Action Group may be helpful.

subrosa said...

Hello axxc. Many thanks for your input. As I understood it the Bill was compiled in association with crofters but obviously my information is wrong.

I wasn't aware the holiday home issue hadn't been resolved with this, because I know one of crofters I know has a problem in their area with that and, as you say, enforcement is patchy (in fact non-existent in their area).

I'll go and have a look at the Emergency Action group right now. Many thanks again.

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